WHAT: STONEHAVEN FIREBALL AND HOGMANAY
WHERE: HIGH STREET, STONEHAVEN, ABERDEENSHIRE
WHEN: 31ST DECEMBER 2019
With fire and fireworks on the agenda for this Scottish celebration, it may be easy to think that they have mixed the dates up with bonfire night – this is not the case and this event shares with the rest of the UK the unique way that the town of Stonehaven in Aberdeenshire welcomes in the New Year.
Crowds begin to gather, lining the kerbsides of the High Street in preparation for watching the evening’s festivities unfold at around 10pm. Some hardier people brave the cold from 9:30 to get a perfect viewing spot. At 11pm the evening entertainment begins with pipe bands and drummers building up the crowd. Even though the event is free to attend, it is advised to get there early to grab a spot, as once the street has reached full capacity it will be closed off.
Moments before the old Town House bell chimes out at midnight, a lone piper will take his place, before the bustling crowds. As soon as the bells begin to ring, the High Street is lit in the orange glow as though the street is on fire as the fireballs are lit and the parade begins with the piper leading the way playing “Scotland the Brave”.
Whirling balls of flames fill the street as the swingers emerge from every avenue, making their way through the town centre, mesmerising the audience lining the pavements all the way down to the harbour. This event is said to help speed the old year on its way and welcome the new year in an ancient style with a spectacular and flammable performance.
After the parade, the fireballs if still burning are thrown into the harbour and the burnt-out fireballs are then retrieved the next day on New Year’s Day and normally cleaned with the handles saved and used for the following year.
The origin of this event is unknown and there are many theories and ancient tales as to why it all began. Documentary evidence shows its foundations link to a local 19th-century fisherman’s ritual making it around 110 years old. Some say the flames are to welcome back the sun or ward off the evil eye and bring good luck to the many fishing fleets in the town. Whereas, a pre-Christian theory is that the fireballs purify the world by consuming evil and warding off witches and evil spirits and the fact that the timing of the event coincides with the Winter Solstice (a pagan festival) supports this theory somewhat.
It also transpires that in the dark ages, a shooting star appeared above what is now Stonehaven and the following year, the nearby farms had bumper crops. The seers of the tribe then attributed this prosperity to the coming of the shooting star and the fireballs event began.
The ancient fireballs ceremony at the Scottish village of Stonehaven is 16 miles south from Aberdeen. It is one of the most unique Hogmanay festivals in Scotland, where on the stroke of midnight the high street is lit up as around 50 to 60 local fireball swingers make their way through the town. If you are staying in the area to get yourself some Scottish hospitality this Hogmanay, get along and see first hand one of the oldest events in the World.